March 2, 2019 - 12:16 AMT
Ancient tattooing artifact discovered by Washington scientists

A 2,000-year-old tool that had been sitting inside a dusty box in a museum storage room for roughly four decades may be the oldest tattooing artifact ever discovered in western North America, Washington State University (WSU) archaeologists revealed this week, Fox News reports.

Andrew Gillreath‑Brown, a 33-year-old anthropology PhD candidate at WSU, stumbled upon the "pen-sized instrument" from Utah while he was taking inventory of all the university's artifacts. According to WSU, researchers mainly rely on ancient artwork to better understand how tattoos played a role in indigenous cultures — so this particular discovery has "great significance."

“Tattooing by prehistoric people in the Southwest is not talked about much because there has not ever been any direct evidence to substantiate it,” Gillreath‑Brown said in an online statement. “This tattoo tool provides us information about past Southwestern culture we did not know before.”

Gillreath‑Brown, along with seven of his colleagues, recently published a paper detailing their rare find in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Archaeologists know tattooing was prevalent in ancient days, particularly to religious groups and the wealthy who used it as a status symbol. But it's difficult to truly understand how the ink was used, as it typically isn't preserved in mummies.